BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Going Green

Green isn’t just good; green is great. Green is downright glorious. Green represents health, wealth, freshness, and rebirth. When it comes to food especially, every green in the visible gamut indicates a potent source of nourishment, and this is especially true as those tones grow increasingly saturated. Spirulina is a prime example, packing an unbelievable battery of vitamins, minerals, and proteins into every molecule. Potent even in the smallest doses, spirulina enjoys the rare ability to enhance average recipes, both visually and nutritionally.

Consider that scant pinch of spirulina powder nature’s food dye, with some added health benefits. With St. Patrick’s Day upon us and green eats popping up around every corner, there’s never been a better time to ditch the bottle of FD&C Green No. 3, titanium dioxide, modified corn starch, sodium benzoate, and potassium sorbate.

The funny thing is, the original St. Patrick himself was actually associated with a particular shade of royal blue, not green, contrary to popular belief. That particular hue came to represent the holiday thanks to the shamrock, which was picked to adorn one’s lapel as a vibrant, living symbol of the holy trinity. Curious what a bit of time and mythology can do to tradition.

As far as I’m concerned, it’s still perfectly fitting to pay homage to the “Emerald Isle” with another round of green goodies. If anything, it’s even more appropriate to employ the tinting powers of blue-green algae with this knowledge! It’s the best of all worlds, especially from a flavor standpoint.

Crisp, compact bites for munching solo or pairing with a light dip, you’d never know that these shamrock-shaped crackers are such healthy snacks. A gluten-free base of green pea flour contributes a distinctly nutty, roasted flavor which pairs perfectly with the subtle savoriness contributed by the spirulina. Bold additions of fresh mint, lemon, and black pepper sparkle brightly against the contrast of that dark green backdrop, yielding an invigorating combination well suited for spring festivities, and beyond.

Best of all, the basic formula is infinitely adjustable to your tastes. Green pea flour is still slightly esoteric, I’ll admit, so you can just as easily swap it for standard garbanzo bean flour instead. Herbs and seasonings are entirely flexible, too. Think fresh dill for another seasonal taste, or try cilantro with lime zest to pull the profile in an entirely new direction. As long as it’s green, it’s all good.

Gluten-Free Minted Pea Crackers

1 Cup Green Pea Flour
1 Tablespoon Spirulina Powder
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Mint Leaves, Finely Minced
1 Scallion, Finely Minced
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/4 Cup Water
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper or a silpat.

In a large bowl, mix together the green pea flour and spirulina, stirring thoroughly to ensure that the spirulina is thoroughly distributed throughout. Add in the finely chopped herbs, zest, salt, pepper, and baking powder next, tossing to incorporate. Finally, pour in the oil and water together, and mix very well, until you create a smooth, cohesive dough. It will be very thick and you may need to use your hands bring everything together, so don’t be afraid to get in there and get messy! There’s no danger of overworking the mixture since there’s no gluten, so give it your all.

Shape the dough into an even rectangle and pat it out fairly thin by hand before moving on to the rolling pin.

Avoid using an excessive amount of additional flour, but use a tiny bit of extra flour on your work surface to prevent the dough from sticking. I had the best results when rolling it between two separate pieces of parchment paper. Roll out the dough as thinly as possible to yield the crispiest, crunchiest crackers; aim for about 1/8 of an inch. Use a small cookie cutter of your desired shape, approximately 1 inch or so in diameter, and punch out the individual crackers. Transfer the shapes carefully to your prepared baking sheet. No need to space them out too much, since they won’t spread. Just give them enough room to breath and bake evenly.

Bake 15 – 18 minutes, or until crisp and no longer shiny on top. It can be difficult to tell when they’re fully cooked due to the dark green color, but they should at least appear dry. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and pull the crackers earlier to prevent them from burning. They will continue to crisp as they cool, and if you’re not fully satisfied with the texture at that point, you can always return them to the oven for a few more minutes.

Let cool completely before snacking or stashing in an air-tight container for up to a week.

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by Spiral Spring, but all content and opinions are entirely my own. To enjoy a 20% discount on all Spiral Spring products, enter “Sweet20” upon checkout.
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Pie-Eyed

Pie, a beloved comestible known in countless forms across the globe, is as ubiquitous across cultures as it is indefinable. Sweet or savory; open-faced or closed; family-style, or single-serving; ornate, or humble; there is no single definition for the concept of pie, but I think we can agree that all permutations are entirely delicious. Every 14th day of March, otherwise known as Pi Day (3.14,) gives the otherwise mathematically averse a reason to bust out the rolling pins and embrace the pastry of honor.

Food historians generally agree that the earliest pies were more closely related to enriched flatbreads with various toppings than deep-dish desserts, which illuminates the link between pie and yet another universally cherished provision: Pizza. In fact, old school establishments still refer to them as hybrid “pizza-pies.” The lines become increasingly blurry depending on who you ask, the general consensus being that all pizzas are pies, but not all pies are pizzas. Got that?

Nomenclature notwithstanding, I was inspired by my Connecticut roots on this particular Pi Day, recalling the inimitable New Haven invention known as white clam pie. Leave the tomatoes behind and instead load up on the cheese, garlic, and herbs. Adding squishy morsels of seafood into that matrix might sound downright repulsive on paper, but once veganized with briny marinated mushrooms, the combination suddenly makes perfect sense.

Re-imagined as a genuine pastry-clad pie, a flaky pastry crust supports a base of soy ricotta, generously seasoned with satisfying umami flavors. Skewing ratios to favor the filling, what was once a decadent, buttery pastry is now a rich yet balanced dinner entree. Even the thinnest slice will prove surprisingly filling, considering the serious protein packed into every square (or should I say circular?) inch. Though not a perfect mock for mollusks, the cruelty-free clams bear an impressive oceanic flavor profile, adding all the right salty, savory notes.

No doubt, there will be a plethora of crusted wonders for dessert today, but why wait for the last course to begin the festivities? A savory dinner pie will start things rolling in the right direction.

White Clam Pie

Vegan Clams:

1/2 Pound Small Cremini or Button Mushrooms, Quartered
1 Tablespoon Vegan Butter
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons Vegetable Stock
2 Tablespoons Vegan Fish Sauce
1 Tablespoon Capers
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
1 Bay Leaf
1/4 Teaspoon Celery Seeds

Okara Ricotta:

1 Cup Plain, Unsweetened Vegan Yogurt
6 – 8 Cloves Roasted Garlic
3/4 Pound Dry Okara*
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Nutritional Yeast
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1/4 Cup Fresh Parsley, Finely Chopped
3 Tablespoons Fresh Basil, Finely Chopped
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Salt
1/2 Teaspoon Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

For Assembly:

Your Favorite 9-Inch Pie Crust, Rolled and Shaped but Unbaked
Fresh Parsley, Finely Minced
Lemon Zest (Optional)

*If you can’t find okara in local markets and don’t make your own soy milk, you can substitute one 14-ounce container or super-firm tofu instead. Press it for at least two hours to extract as much liquid as possible, and crumble it finely before using.

To prepare the “clams,” begin by melting the vegan butter in a small saucepan over moderate heat. Add the mushrooms and saute for a few minutes, until softened and aromatic. Introduce the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, and cover the pan. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 20 minutes to infuse the mushrooms. Uncover, and continue to cook gently until any remaining liquid has evaporated. Discard the bay leaf and set aside.

Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

For the filling, mix together the vegan yogurt and roasted garlic in a large bowl, mashing the cloves thoroughly into a rough paste in the process. If you would like a smoother finished texture, move everything into the bowl of your food processor, but if you’d something with a bit more character, continue stirring by hand. Add in the okara and mix thoroughly to incorporate, being sure to break up any clumps. Introduce all of the remaining ingredients for the ricotta, stirring well until the mixture is is homogeneous. Fold in the mushroom “clams” last.

Transfer the white clam filling into your prepared pie crust and smooth it out into an even layer. Bake for 55 – 60 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is set but slightly wobbly, almost like a firm cheesecake. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. Top with freshly chopped parsley and lemon zest, if desired, and enjoy.

This pie is an ideal make-ahead meal, since the flavors only improve with age and it’s easier to slice after it’s had more time to rest. Simply cover and chill after baking for up to 5 days. To reheat, pop it back into the oven at 350 degrees for 10 – 15 minutes, until heated all the way through.

Makes 8 Servings

Printable Recipe


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Brazilian Bread Blowout

So a vegan walks into a Brazilian steakhouse…

Reality is stranger than fiction, and while that may sound like the opening line of a terrible joke, that is exactly what happened on a recent afternoon exploit in the city. Why, in a veritable vegan wonderland, would I willingly chose a venue best known for slinging skewered meats like a relentless barrage, bearing glistening swords of the stuff right at your table, no less? Three simple words, my friends: Free salad bar. There is such a thing as a free lunch, at least when it’s your birthday and you’re gifted with a voucher that would cover the cost of the lavish “market table,” a bottomless buffet piled high with a wealth of naturally plant-based options. Luxurious platters of naked hearts of palm, fat spears of asparagus, whole cloves of caramelized garlic, roasted red beets, and yes, even verdant kale salad all beckon atop a platform of glistening crushed ice. It’s a veggie-lovers heaven; a miraculous vegan oasis amid a desert of meat. Thus, for the grand total of $0 (plus a generous and well-deserved tip,) I shamelessly piled my plate high, going back for round after round until I swore I would need to be rolled all the way back home.

To their credit, the servers all took my curious requests in stride, even when I turned down the buttery mashed potatoes, crispy, cheese-encrusted polenta fries, and complimentary birthday dessert. “But it’s included as part of the experience!” they cried, falteringly but graciously returning the untouched bounty to the kitchen whence it came. Only when one carefully folded napkin briefly fell away to reveal a bundle of mysterious little rolls, more like puff pastry than bread, did I feel the smallest pang of regret. Pão de queijo, an entirely unique baked good never before seen through my travels or tastings, suddenly dominated my imagination. Made of either yucca or tapioca flour, the texture is dense and chewy, much like baked mochi with a savory slant. Of course, the little gut bombs positively shimmer with the rich dairy components that make up the bulk of each bite.

That is, of course, until you take matters into your own hands. By no means traditional or remotely “authentic,” my take on the celebrated Brazilian cheese bread is a quick and dirty version that requires none of the typical kneading, rising, or general fussing associated with making bread. If you’ve got a blender and 30 minutes to spare, you’re in business.

Break through that crisp, golden exterior and plunge yourself head-first into an intensely buttery morsel of bread, the likes of which no average dinner roll can compare. Part of its appeal is its simplicity; the flavor is simple and savory, bold but agreeable, easily paired with any other main or side dish on the table. Though unremarkable at first glance, these treats are big winners once you get to know them.

They may not come with the full steakhouse experience, but once you can pop one of these warm, cheesy morsels into your mouth any time a craving strikes, well… You really aren’t missing anything at all.

Brazilian Cheese Bread (Pão de Queijo)

1/4 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Vegan Butter, Melted
2/3 Cup Unsweetened Non-Dairy Milk
1/2 Teaspoon White Vinegar
1 1/2 Cups Tapioca Flour
1 Tablespoon Nutritional Yeast
2 Teaspoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoons Baking Powder
6 Ounces Vegan Mozzarella-Style Cheese
1 Teaspoon Salt

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and lightly grease two mini muffin pans.

Simply place all of the ingredients into a blender and pulse until smooth. You don’t need to worry about over-mixing the dough, since there’s no gluten to work up here. Pause as needed to scrape down the sides of the blender to ensure that everything is thoroughly incorporated.

Once completely smooth, pour the batter into your prepared mini muffin pans so that they’re filled 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake for 16-20 minutes, until puffy and evenly browned all over. Remove from oven and let cool on a rack for a few minutes. Don’t be alarmed if some of them fall in the center as they cool.

Serve right away and eat while still warm.

Makes 2 – 2 1/2 Dozen Rolls

Printable Recipe


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Weather or Not

Don’t talk about the weather. No one wants to read another dissertation on the current atmospheric conditions in their own immediate locale, let alone those in some irrelevant corner of the world. Not a single person out there could care less about the recent rainfall, temperature swings, or the balance of sun and clouds, and yet you’d be hard pressed to find two consecutive posts here that don’t bear at least a passing mention of one. Keep this up and you’ll have to convert BitterSweet to a weather blog. Of all the topics to open a conversation with, discussing the weather is absolutely the most boring approach, guaranteed to stop any casual interaction in its tracks. Please, I’m begging you, do not start another article based around the weather.

It’s a conversational dead end, a social death sentence, a trap that I’m well aware of and yet fall into every time. Weather affects countless facets of my daily life, making it impossible to merely push aside as though it wasn’t such a dominating force. That’s especially true when it comes to culinary inspiration. No other single element affects the food I crave and create more than Mother Nature, each dish an edible manifestation of her mischievous climate deviance or meteorological phenomenon. Shopping more often at farmers markets and less at traditional supermarkets only intensifies this connection. Given this overwhelming influence, how am I to introduce a recipe inspired entirely by seasonal availability?

Let’s just talk about the food, shall we? The latest gems sparking my interest have come straight from the aforementioned farmers markets, thanks to the brilliant program CUESA has assembled, featuring local chefs and produce every weekend.

Presented by Chef Ben Paula of Sauce, this colorful composition has been a delicious reminder of the brilliance in simplicity for many ensuing meals. A Pickled Beet and Braised Beet Top Salad may not sound like much on paper, but the lightly briny taproot adds a new dimension of flavor to the leafy greens. Utilizing the whole vegetable, each plate presents a complete and thoughtful study of the much-maligned beet. I would wager that even naysayers would find something to love in such a fresh approach.

For a sweet accompaniment that won’t weigh you down, I would highly recommend the Blood Orange-Carrot-Almond Dreamsicle from Neka Pasquale of Urban Remedy fame. Truth be told, the name itself is far more complicated than the actual recipe. Simply mixing together prepared juices and almond milk provides a smart alternative to juicing from scratch, and creates an unexpectedly luscious drink. All you need is equal parts carrot juice, orange juice (blood or orange or standard work equally well, I’ve found), and almond milk. Add the almond milk last to prevent it from curdling, and enjoy chilled. I’ve taken to mixing up the formula with beet juice as well, since I just can’t get enough of the ruby red orbs.

Even if your immediate outlook isn’t nearly so sunny, go ahead and leave the forecast off the menu. I’d argue that these spring-time treats needn’t require optimal weather for your enjoyment.


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A Whole Lava Love

Pastry chefs, restaurateurs, and seasoned eaters the world over groan with a deliberate roll of the eyes as the dessert menu lands on their tables. Invariably, no matter the cuisine, listed there amongst the sweet offerings will be the classic chocolate lava cake. No one can begrudge the treat for its flavor, as chocolate boasts a nearly universal approval rate across all dining demographics, but it simply seems like the default, stock answer to the question a lazy cook doesn’t want to address. To continually make such an obvious culinary faux-pas, whoever is at the helm in the kitchen must be terribly uncreative, tone-deaf, or simply apathetic about the meal’s final course. We can all agree that there are few innovations to be found in this antiquated cake, despite the richest, most flowery printed descriptions.

So why do they keep turning up around every dining room corner, and better yet, why do we keep ordering them? For all our claims of being adventurous eaters, open to new, sometimes risky flavor pairings, the attraction to tried-and-true chocolate decadence is simply irresistible. Whether you’ve indulged in one lava cake or 80 in your lifetime, it just doesn’t get old.

Putting food snobbery aside and conceding that there are far worse ways to end a meal, it becomes clear that the real issue isn’t necessarily the sheer number of molten chocolate cakes, but the number of poorly executed renditions. There’s still plenty of room for improvement.

My inspiration to revisit the original, antiquated recipe came from an unlikely source. Protein powder and downright hedonistic desserts are hardly a natural combination, but from one sip of the newly released Natural Whipped Chocolate protein powder by Pro(Zero), I knew it wasn’t so far fetched. Not only did this highly nutritious base help to foster the perfect gooey interior texture, but its natural thickening powers abolished the need for any gluten at all.

There’s no shame in falling for these babycakes containing a rich pool of hot chocolate lava, especially when they deliver a surprising punch of protein and fiber, too.

Molten Mocha Protein Cakes

2 Ounces (1/3 Cup) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips
1/4 Cup Aquafaba (Chickpea Brine)
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/4 Cup Pro(Zero) Natural Whipped Chocolate Protein Powder
3 Tablespoons Confectioner’s Sugar
1 Teaspoon Instant Espresso Powder
1/8 Teaspoon Salt
1/8 Teaspoon Baking Powder

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and lightly grease 4 standard muffin cups. Fill the remaining 2 in the pan halfway with room temperature water; set aside.

Place the chocolate chips in a medium, microwave-safe bowl along with the aquafaba and oil. Heat for 30 – 60 seconds, stirring thoroughly until the chocolate has completely melted. Add in the protein powder, sugar, espresso powder, salt, and baking powder, mixing well, being sure to beat out any clumps. The batter should be smooth and fairly thick.

Divide the batter equally between your four prepared muffin cups and gently slide the pan into the oven. Bake for just 7 – 8 minutes, no matter how under-baked they may look. The sides should be firm, but the centers will remain soft and may fall slightly as they rest. Let the cakes cool in the pan for 5 minutes before carefully pouring out the water from the empty tins. Invert the whole pan over cutting board a or large, flat plate before transferring them to individual dessert plates. Serve immediately while still warm.

Makes 4 Small Cakes

Printable Recipe

This post was is sponsored by HPN Supplements, but all content and opinions are entirely my own.


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The Scarcity Fallacy

Well beyond the distraction of holiday merriment, winter stretches out as far as the eye can see, like an interminable ocean that surpasses the horizon. We’re in it for the long haul, no safe havens to moor our ships for the night, completely at the mercy of a historically mercurial season. No longer are we reliant on stockpiles of homemade preserves and canned goods, but fresh produce is considerably less diverse, or at least, anything grown nearby and worth eating offers fewer inspiring options. Even in balmy California, farmers market tables once straining under the weight of plump tomatoes and juicy peaches look comparatively sparse, bearing dusty tubers and hearty greens instead.

It’s a rough transition, no doubt about that, but great abundance can still be found even in the depths of winter. A far cry from the scarcity faced by the average cook only a few decades back, the danger isn’t that one might go hungry, but that one might go with a boring dinner. Oh, such terrible sacrifices we must make!

Instead of seeing what the local markets lack, it’s just as easy to see what they have to offer. With an open mind and a pinch of creativity, cravings that once seemed impossible to fulfill now appear ripe with potential for innovation.

Tabbouleh is a staple dish when the weather turns warm, the simplest combination of fresh ingredients that absolutely screams “summer!” in every refreshing bite. Tomatoes and parsley make up the foundation, with a handful of cracked wheat acting as the mortar holding everything together. It’s the kind of combination that needs no formal recipe, depending entirely on the strength of those bare components to shine. I’d never dream of making tabbouleh in winter, when only mealy pink tomatoes shipped halfway across the globe can be found rotting on grocery store shelves. No, not traditional tabbouleh…

…But I would make tabbouleh built with some crafty seasonal substitutions in mind. Bear with me, because I know that it’s not a natural leap to replace tomatoes with persimmons, but it makes perfect sense the moment you taste them in this light, leafy salad. Their juicy, meaty texture and natural sweetness add volumes of complexity to the basic composition, elevating the final product to a truly noteworthy side. Pomegranate arils follow to lend tart, crunchy bursts of flavor, echoing the bright lemon juice and balancing the bitter greens. Parsley could be the sole herbaceous element if you so desire, but in an homage to the abundance of root vegetables and in protest of food waste, I felt compelled to toss in those unloved green carrot tops that are all too often discarded, rather than savored as they should be.

Even the longest winter can feel far more manageable with a good supply of fresh, simple recipes on hand. There’s definitely a time and a place for the heavy soups and stews typically associated with the season, but a bit of lightness and brightness goes a long way when there’s no sun, and little local produce, to make up the difference.

Winter Tabbouleh

1/4 Cup Bulgur
1/4 Teaspoon Turmeric
1/2 Cup Vegetable Broth
1 Fuyu Persimmon, Peeled, Stemmed, and Chopped
1/3 Cup Pomegranate Arils (Optional)
1 1/2 Cups Carrot Tops, Minced
1 Cup Fresh Parsley, Minced
2 Tablespoons Red Onion, Finely Chopped
2 – 3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 – 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
Salt and Ground Black Pepper, to Taste

In a small saucepan, combine the bulgur wheat, turmeric, and vegetable broth, and place over low heat. Stir well and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off the heat, and let stand for 15 – 20 minutes, until all of the liquid has been absorbed.

Meanwhile, prepare the fruits and vegetables accordingly and toss together in a large bowl. Add the cooked bulgur when finished and slightly cooled, followed by the lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, adding more or less according to personal preference.

Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving to allow the flavors to marry.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

Printable Recipe

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